One of the things I loved about the idea of running the Mage campaign had always been the size of the playing field. Mages can do anything, which can be a real painus in the anus to deal with in the physical world, but they don’t necessarily always need to have their adventures in the physical world do they now?
When I was coming up with the ideas behind the Project Lullaby (headed by a Seer using the Shadow Name Brahms) set of stories I always figured that there would be several astral journeys involved. When Damien joined the campaign and his player specifically asked if I foresaw astral sessions I was overjoyed! This was exactly the kind of thing that I had been hoping for.
And then they didn’t ever take the bait.
I had handed them the fact that both the Consillium and the Seers were experimenting on the potential uses of a little substance called lysergic acid diethylamide – more commonly called LSD. I had many great plans of walking the group through freaky drug trips. I also handed them a list of names of murder victims, and gave one of those victims a parent who had Brahms’ Lullaby playing in the background of her thoughts. The Mastigos wants to take a stroll through her brain to see what the deal is – but nobody else wants to do it. The rest of the group takes no interest at all in this lead beyond the very mundane conversation they have with her at her house regarding her daughter’s death.
I handed them a crazy Mage who kills newly Awakened folks on the orders of… someone they know not who… who is not likely to simply tell them what they want to know (he is a bit insane) but maybe they could wander through his head and figure out what’s really going on. They naturally opt to kill him outright and wash their hands of the situation.
Damien himself was stabbed by an unknown assailant and his memories of the situation are jumbled. Aenaiyah runs a post Cognition using his corpus as her focus which brings events somewhat clearer, but there is still much he does not know. Do they traipse through his brain to find out more? Of course not.
I make the involvement of Damien’s ex-wife with the enemy impossible to ignore. She is all kinds of personally involved with the kidnapping of Aenaiyah’s sister. After several sessions of punching her in the face and asking her questions they finally, FINALLY, have their arms twisted to tiptoe through the synapses – and hilarity ensues! These really are my favorite sessions of the campaign to date. (And we’ve had some good sessions!)
Earlier in the story the Mages found the hidden journal of a man who is very clearly suffering from multiple personality disorder. One of this man’s personalities is very clearly involved with kidnapping Aenaiyah’s sister, Betsy. They found out that the poor girl was in America at all and had in fact been bagged and tagged by clearing a printer jam in one of his safe houses and finding an upcoming edition of Sick, Sad World stuck in the printer that detailed the fact that the girl had been taken. The journal is being written by the part of him that wants to fight against the personality who was in charge during the kidnapping. The journal speaks about swearing someone to an oath against his wishes and not being happy about it. You’d think it would be easy to get them to consider taking a stroll down this guy’s memory lane – but no. Instead they tell the Seers that one of their operatives is having a crisis of faith and that they are willing to kill this guy for the Seers if the Seers give Betsy back. Because, you know, the head of the Seers who the Mages by now know is a Mastigos Arch Master would want one of his most successful operatives killed by them over a trifling difficulty like this. He wouldn’t simply take measures to keep the personality trying to thwart him in check. Why would he want to do that?
And then… and then… they go and tell Glamdring that they told the Seers that they know that Narsil is compromised, and when she asks why they would do that they tell her that it’s better to have everything out in the open.
I could have had Glamdring kill them all right then and there (she’s like Brock Samson if he happened to be a hot red-headed chick who is an Arch Master Thyrsus Mage) but she’s all about honor and duty (she is the head of the Adamantine Arrow in New York City after all) and with difficulty she restrains herself and simply throws them out of her office.
I’m thinking that if she kills them later maybe everyone will think the Seers did it – and if I’m thinking it, you know Glamdring is thinking it.
I’m generally not one to railroad a game, but this very quickly turned into a situation where I had to make it blatantly obvious that if the players didn’t step up and figure out a way to fix this their characters were all going to die. More than that, their deaths would be slow and torturous. And then their bodies would be disposed of in a way that made the Seers look guilty – or made the players themselves look like Seer spies (which wouldn’t be all that difficult under the circumstances). And their ghosts would be held captive by the outrageously pissed off red-head who had planned on marrying Narsil until she, an Arch Master of Life Magic, died. (which would probably not be any time soon.)
And when that didn’t work I smashed them repeatedly in the face with the Sledgehammer of Obvious Truths and eventually they realized that if the man who swore Narsil to his Guardians Oath (against Narsil’s will) had buried deep inside of him a personality that really wanted to RELEASE Narsil from that oath that MAYBE IT WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA TO GET INSIDE HIS BRAIN AND HELP THAT PERSONALITY DO THAT!!!
Which only goes to show:
You can lead your players to clues but you can’t make them think.
So the Mages manage to rescue Aenaiyah’s sister from the Fae Wild, and they return Sara to her family of Seers. Everybody wins!
Everybody except Narsil that is. He’s still under oath to the Seers, which isn’t exactly the way he wanted things.
Narsil has family members too, you see. He has a mother and a younger sister, his father having passed away some years ago. Narsil’s family was not well off. They got by, don’t get me wrong, but college isn’t cheap and his sister isn’t THAT much younger than he is. Narsil decided to sign up to be a reservist in order to supplement the scholarship awards he won by being a really smart kid in order to study linguistics with a minor in archaeology. He earned his Masters, and then September 11th happened.
Narsil was called into active duty, and wound up serving with army intelligence deciphering coded transmissions. He was very, very good at his job, and finding that he enjoyed it he earned a position with Special Forces. He was not Awakened at that time.
Glamdring is also with Special Forces. She can kick ass and chew bubblegum without needing to wait until the bubblegum runs out. She is a helicopter pilot and uses her Shadow Name as her call sign. On a trip up into the mountains of Afghanistan one of the soldiers asks what the hell kind of name Glamdring is, earning himself a look of imminent death from the no nonsense red-head in the pilot seat. At this point a certain linguistics expert being brought up the mountain on that very flight points out that it is probably not a good idea to antagonize anyone who chooses to go by the call sign “The Foe Hammer”.
Glamdring had Awakened many years earlier, and not seeing any indications that this man was Awakened (though knowing that she was masking such signs for herself) she simply went back to the controls without killing anyone that day.
The two got along well while they were stationed together, though not knowing much about him or having any way to find out more Glamdring kept a certain distance. She suspected that he was not Awakened because he spoke openly about his relatives back home, but for all she knew he was making it all up. For her part she kept mostly to herself until several months later. Narsil (though he wasn’t using that name at the time) was arguing that they needed to move because somehow or other they had been compromised. It wasn’t what was being said in the messages he intercepted, it was in what wasn’t being said. The chatter had changed in tone, and it felt like they knew that they were being listened to. The man in charge laughed right in his face until the bombs started falling on them. Maybe it was simply luck, maybe it was Fate, maybe it was Glamdring’s Thyrsus abilities to pump up her strength and agility… or some combination of these things… but Glamdring managed to shove her favorite linguistics expert into a supply cave before it was blasted shut. On the one hand, it sucked because they were sealed in and Space Magic had never been Glamdring’s strong suit. On the other hand they had plenty of supplies and she could deal with the air situation without the non-Mage being any the wiser. Hopefully someone from the Arrow would catch wind of what had happened and figure out how to get them both out of there covertly eventually.
Fortunately they didn’t have to wait for that. At some point (hours…? days…?) Narsil Awakened a Mastigos. Mastigos Awakenings tend to be unpleasant, and considering what had just happened to everyone that the group had been stationed with Narsil’s Awakening was no exception* but it did give him access to the Space Arcana. It also gave him access to Glamdring’s memories of a Space ArchMaster’s attempts to teach her to use Portal spells.
These attempts were most certainly not a triumph. There was no success.
There was, however, enough of those lessons buried in her memories for Narsil to figure out how to get them both somewhere safe though. This is how Narsil came to join the Consillium as an Adamantine Arrow. He chose his military nickname as his Shadow Name: Strider.
Strider was an apt pupil, and quickly made a name for himself in the Arrow. He was the ideal person to send along as a bodyguard for Mysterium Mages on relic hunts because he could not only handle the physical demands of the job, he could also decipher languages and knew a bit about archaeology as well. Strider, Glamdring, and a Mystagogue called Reenie made quite the name for themselves besting the Seers to relic after relic, which you might bet would make the Seers quite mad at them. You would win that bet.
A Seer Operative named Morgan who had ties to the military (and the FBI, and various other groups under a variety of names and appearances) figured out who he was. He arranged for Strider’s younger sister to be kidnapped, and then pushed the Guardian’s claim on him. After all, as a member of an intelligence agency the Guardians should have had the Right of First Refusal as per various treaties that kept the Consillium Orders working together instead of at odds. Morgan pointed out what a pity would be if some accident were to befall this poor, innocent young girl. What was Strider to do? The threat was only implied, but clear. He reluctantly joined the Guardians, and in return his sister was given a cushy job in the offices of a medical research facility. It was at this time that he took the name Narsil: the sword that was broken.
The Seers, or rather The Guardians, had been under the impression that they had broken up a swearing in ceremony. They had thought that he was not yet a fully pledged member of the Arrow. (The Arrow do love their pomp and circumstance!) That’s because they didn’t catch sight of what Glamdring was wearing. Morgan didn’t see her because he was talking to Narsil and it’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding.
So how do you think Glamdring reacted when she was casually informed by one of the Mages that they told the Seers that they knew that Narsil was compromised and that the Guardians were really the Seers in stealth mode? Do you think she was pleased to find out that this secret knowledge, which they had been using to turn Narsil into a (willing but by necessity unknowing) triple agent was now formerly secret? Did she leap for joy at the thought that The Seers could now use his sister as leverage to force him to take overt action against the Consilium since the jig was up anyway?
That’s OK though. I mean, Narsil seems like a nice enough guy and all, but if we have to kill him so be it.
*If you’re all very good I’ll post Narsil’s Awakening here next week.
Eventually the Mages decided that they had done enough damage to one poor woman’s psyche, and decided it was time to attempt the arrangement of a prisoner exchange. Finally, a plan that makes sense!
What they managed to learn in the Seer’s brain:
- Damien was stabbed in the chest because life-or-death situations tend to trigger Awakenings. Sara (AKA: Hannah) stabbed him herself for two reasons: 1: As a Fate Mage she thought she could maybe help to tip the scales in his favor. 2: Damien had been kind of a douchebag to a lot of people as of late and she was afraid that if she let someone else step in and do it they might kill him… “by accident”. (Sara actually did love Damien. Love Stinks.)
- Aenaiyah’s sister is taking a nap in the Fae Wild. She hasn’t been harmed, but she has been there for a bit. She’s likely to be a bit confused when she wakes up and a week has gone by that she can’t account for, but otherwise she should be fine.
- Arrow has recently sold Werewolf fur to the head of the Seers of the Throne. (Or at least the head of this particular Pylon of Seers anyway.)
- Sara herself dumped Aenaiyah’s sister, Betsy, in the Fae Wild. She cast a bunch of protective spells to see to it that Betsy doesn’t get scooped up by True Fae or anything (like her annoying sister Aenaiyah). A special Thorn was used to prick the foot of anyone needing to be passed through a particular Hedge Gate, and without the Thorn to get through that particular Gate it would be difficult at best to navigate through the Fae Wild to where Betsy is sleeping. Sara can get Betsy back, but not while she locked up in Mage Prison.
- The Consillium has been riddled with spies since the confusion caused by the events of September 11th. These spies include:
- The group’s Guardian of the Veil contact (and extremely powerful Mastigos Arch-Master) Narsil. Sara herself sanctified his “Guardians of the Veil” Oath using an extremely powerful Ancient Silver Coin. His avatar’s yellow clothing at The Pyramid indicated that he is unaware that he has been compromised. (This is, in fact, not true. He is aware of it, they simply think he is not.)
- A. Morgan: The A has stood for many names over the years: Alex, Andrew, Allan, Anthony, etc. This is not because he has lived an incredibly long life-span; he moves in a lot of circles and uses a lot of different first names. You’ll learn much more about him in the coming posts, but for now let’s just say that he is somewhat unstable.
Armed with the knowledge that they do know how to contact the head of the Seer Pylon that is holding Aenaiyah’s sister, and that he has in fact established a rapport with Arrow, one of the Player Characters, the Mages decide to go off half-cocked and have someone else contact him. In fact, it isn’t just any Mage who contacts him, it’s Aenaiyah herself. Clearly she is the most level headed among them, and her ability to remain calm and seemingly impartial during this process makes her the best choice for the job. Not only does she decide to take it upon herself to contact this man, Dr. Blair, she decides that it would be a marvelous idea to make a bunch of demands of her own because they have his granddaughter. Her demands are as follows:
- Return Betsy unharmed
- Release Narsil from his “Guardian of the Veil” oath
- Remove all the spies from the Consillium
- Make no moves against the Consillium ever again
- Make no moves against us ever again (corollary to “Make no moves against the Consillium ever again” – above)
- Stay out of Damien’s life
- Give us The Thorn
- Give us Sara’s Ancient Silver Coin.
In return the Mages will:
- Return Sara in “very good” condition (There may be a few barely noticeable dings in the corners of her brain.)
- Deal with A. Morgan – which is to say “Kill Morgan”. It is important to note here that Morgan has been a powerful and successful Seer operative for decades. Even if he is becoming slightly unstable, as an Arch Master of Mind (which the Mages know for a fact that Dr. Blair is) it’s likely that Dr. Blair would have an easier time dealing with Morgan than they would anyway, and Dr Blair could probably deal with him without killing him, thereby retaining his services.
Sounds like a great deal, doesn’t it?
Now I know what you’re saying: why in F@&% would anyone give the Seers that much information? Why, when you know that the Seers don’t know that Narsil is aware that he is compromised would you TELL THEM this? God knows it’s a question I asked myself several times as this plan was being hatched. I even asked it aloud at the table in the hopes that the rest of the Cabal would step in to stop this from happening! And to their credit, some of them did point out that this would be a spectacularly bad idea. Sadly they were not listened to.
Apparently Aenaiyah had forgotten that Seers are fanatically devoted to the Exarch they worship, and little things like holding their family members hostage aren’t going to sway them from this devotion. Keep in mind, throughout all of this the Mages have been trying to play the good guys, which has been difficult enough for them to pull off without killing a prisoner. In the eyes of The Great Eye this particular Seer has screwed up on more than one occasion. She picked the wrong Mage to marry… he wound up joining the Consillium… she was captured by the Mages… at this point is she worth giving up all of the things the Mages are asking for? Sure, Blair loves his granddaughter, but he’s also a fanatic. He has faith that if he does not sell out his Exarch, and Sara has been faithful, she will be saved by The Eye. As a result, and completely expectedly, he tells them no. He says that he would be willing to trade Betsy for Sara, since grabbing Betsy had only been a spur of the moment thing anyway. In fact, grabbing her may have been merciful considering as she was wandering around Manhattan crying to everyone she saw that she was in the city alone, with her family across the ocean, looking for her missing sister with the shocking purple hair. Aenaiyah’s Cabal has made enemies in the city, and another Seer group might not have been so kindly toward the girl. They decided to give him “time to think it over”, but it really wasn’t possible that he would have any other answer for them. Ultimately Sara was given back in order to secure Betsy’s release. Sara may have some small neuroses to deal with at this point, but that’s all part of the joy of being Awakened.
At least nobody else in the Consillium knows that the Mages told the Seers all that stuff about Narsil realizing that the “Guardians of the Veil” aren’t so much working for the Consillium anymore…
Disclaimer: “I like to think I’m a pretty nice guy, but Damien… he’s a jerk. He’s a really big jerk, but that’s Damien… the character… not me… I’m the really nice guy who plays a character who’s a total jerk.”
When a brand new player player you’ve never met before joins your game with a disclaimer much like the one above, you have a right to be a tad concerned. Sometimes it isn’t just the character who is a big jerk. Sometimes there is an even bigger jerk hiding behind that character and using that character as an excuse to be… well to be a big jerk.
Damien started the campaign with the reduced Wisdom score of 5 (down from starting Wisdom 7) so that he could buy up a few other things with the points he gained from the lower Morality score. Ordinarily this would be a huge red flag for me, but he sent me his character concept and such and I really liked it. Additionally he was well recommended by other folks who had met him, so since he was starting in the campaign late I decided to let him go for it. Let me tell you, I dodged an extended burst from a machine gun on this one because Damien’s player really is a nice guy, whereas Damien could hide a plethora of jerks behind his jerkiness.
Damien’s back story was a goldmine of GM hooks. He mentioned an ex-wife who he cheated on, a wide array of people who had “allegedly” committed all manner of crime and never been convicted due to his efforts as a sleazy lawyer, the powerful and “well connected” law firm in which he was a rising star in addition to being the senior partner’s (now former) son-in-law, the possibility that there was a significantly powerful Mage keeping an eye on him (he might want to purchase the Mentor merit at some point down the road) who he might be having random flings with in a “don’t call me Damien, I’ll let you know when I’m bored” kind of way until such time as he might purchase that Merit, and someone who tried to kill him by stabbing him in the chest with an odd looking brass knife when he had his Awakening. He wasn’t all scum-bag though. He and his wife divorced when he had his Awakening, and partly because he realized that he had been a total ass-hole to her and her father. He didn’t fight her on the things she wanted in the divorce, and mentioned that it was entirely possible that the relationship could be mended if Damien stopped being a douche-bag and actually tried.
That last bit is why I was a bit surprised by his decision to use his ex-wife as bait when she indicated that she might be in danger. He really was making efforts to have Damien become a better person for a while there, but wound up dropping another morality point along the way (I honestly can’t remember why he lost that point so if one of my players can remind me that would be appreciated) and decided to just give in and embrace his inner bastard.
Still, his player is indeed a nice guy and I thought that when he figured out that she really did love him all along, and really was trying to make him happy, and really didn’t want to see him wind up getting stabbed in the chest but she at least wanted to make sure that whoever did it didn’t wind up killing him “by accident” (did I mention that he’s a big jerk?) I thought he might show some remorse.
And then we got to The Pyramid. Damien arrived with a plan.
Damien decided that if she was going to manipulate him (pretending to be other women for him so he could “cheat on her” and not give him any grief about it, see to it that he had every opportunity to shine at her father’s prestigious law firm maybe tweaking Fate to help pieces of evidence wind up missing or tainted for him if the prosecution just had way too solid of a case, landing him in a sinfully opulent condo in Manhattan, and on and on and on… yeah she really made his life miserable) he would return the favor by planting certain manipulative images in her Oneiros. He goosed up how incredibly awesome and attractive she finds him (because the fact that she had been in love with him since childhood just wasn’t enough) and then did grisly, horrible things to completely freak her out. He controlled not only her mental image of him, but puppeteered one of the Onerios manifestations of some random person who happened to be in The Pyramid into spilling some red wine on the pristine white suit her mental image of him was wearing and then had “himself” scream unmercifully at the man and beat him to a pulp in front of her. After this he soothed her by telling her to relax, he would never have to harm her because she would never be that stupid and careless.
Needless to say she was completely freaked out and intimidated by the time he was done. Of course, this is after he abandoned her in her memory of saving her from some schoolyard bullies that represented the moment she fell in love with him in the first place… leaving Argus to rescue her now. So at this point, she’s feeling comfortable around Argus, and drawn to him in a safe and reassuring way – while still being in love with Damien even though she’s kind of afraid of him now.
If his Wisdom hadn’t already been so low he’d have been sinking like a stone after that session.
Wen they finally did work out the prisoner swap it was a very different young woman who was returned to her Seer family.
Remember kids, the player characters are the good guys!
Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re a Mage. You’ve made a habit of acquiring “rare antiquities” for people, and somewhere along the line you had an Awakening. Your Awakening has granted you Supernal powers over Life and Spirit, and you’ve come to realize that some of the people you were acquiring these antiquities for have the ability to impose their will over the fallen world as well. They call themselves the Silver Ladder, and they welcome you into their midst as one of the chosen leaders of the Awakened Community.
Let’s go on to say that you have been introduced to a Cabal of Mages, and that this Cabal has become friendly with a pack of Werewolves. Furthermore, you have displeased their Guardian of the Veil by pick-pocketing him within moments of finishing introductions. Or was it during introductions? Either way, as a result he has “politely” asked you to step out while the Cabal takes care of some business. Having met their Werewolf friends, and having no other pressing business at that particular moment in time, you decide to go on a little road trip to the Spirit side of the Gauntlet with your new found furry friends and while there you manage to acquire, completely above the boards, some Werewolf fur. Being the entrepreneurial sort you figure this has a street value and contact your retainer. Your retainer, a Sleepwalker who can’t use magic himself but has “somehow or other” recently become aware of it, dutifully lines up a deal for you. You set up an appointment with Dr Blair from Angmar Medical Holdings and meet a distinguished, grandfatherly gentleman who is very concerned that this fur was not ill-gotten, that it is indeed pure Werewolf fur, and if he artfully dodges the question of which Order he is with well, who can blame him? He certainly seems nice enough! And he’s doing important work to attempt to help people avoid the many ravages of time. Who doesn’t want that? He has offered to open up to you the mysteries of the Mind Arcanum, which clearly means that he is an ArchMaster of the Arcanum, but that is certainly no cause for alarm.
You complete the transaction in an afternoon, and leave the building thinking that this is someone you wouldn’t mind doing business with again.
Flash forward to later that very evening: your new Cabal friends (and their Werewolf BFFs) get their asses beat by Sangre Santo. Arrow is one of the last two standing. (Matteous the Werewolf is the other one.) Without any coaching from me whatsoever (honestly, I hadn’t even had time to form the idea in my mind) Arrow suggests that he take everyone to the healthcare facility of this new doctor friend of his.
WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?!
This was one of those moments you dream about as a GM. Here is one of the players voluntarily (and completely unwittingly) handing ALL of the players’ characters into the hands of the enemy, while most of them (except himself) are unconscious and near death. Containing my glee at this suggestion was nigh impossible, though in retrospect I think I did a reasonable job of playing it cool. Sadly, Matteous talked him out of this brilliant plan, but I still periodically amuse myself by coming up with ways this could have ended.
So tell me, if you were me, and one of the PCs HAD INDEED handed his entire group into the hands of the Big Bad (who is at the very least an ArchMaster of the Mind Arcanum and possibly others), how would you have abused this situation?
Inquiring minds want to know!